With the demise of proper football stadiums into soulless concrete bowls, there are few genuine pleasures in the modern game.
One remains the emergence of young players into the first XI. Of course, each club has some many first XI’s these days thanks to the fad of changing the team for cup competitions that it is no longer the arduous journey of yesteryear.
However, the flip side of that is the weight of expectations which fall on those young shoulders. Since Thursday night, Gabriel Martinelli has been in the spotlight. He did well, so why not?
Well, for starters, he found himself compared to a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Why we need to compare young players to those who’ve made the grade and gone beyond 99.9% of other players is bizarre. Martinelli might end up that good but using that yardstick is setting him up to fail.
The interesting aspect of his performance is how it affects Eddie Nketiah. He’s missing out on a season of cup football at Arsenal by sitting on the Leeds United bench or playing for their Academy side. In short, he hasn’t improved his lot. Which makes me question whether the motive for his loan was development or shop window?
That was always the issue when he chose Leeds. Great to be coached by Bielsa, excellent to be part of a title-chasing squad but is he really better served going there and spending a year on the bench or in the cup sides?
I’m truly unconvinced it is better than staying at Arsenal and being a substitute in the Premier League or our cup striker. If Martinelli continues with good performances, he’s likely to be ahead of Nketiah in the queue for the starting line-up.
That’s an interesting post-season dilemma for Unai.
The Premier League Is The Bread and Butter
One question which remains unanswered is how Martinelli will fare in the Premier League. We may find out in cameos rather than full appearances. If he starts a game, then we’ve hit an injury-crisis.
Of course, he might feel he deserves a crack in the big time. Two goals in a midweek cup competition? Repeating that trick against Vittoria and Liverpool may well open the door. His future is less clear, however. During the summer, Emery said the player needed a season of adaptation. Judged on Thursday night, the boy is a quick learner.
Which, of course, is overstating the case, building him up before the foundations are in place. The thing easily forgotten is that young players plateau and are inconsistent. They rarely produce week in, week out.
Reiss Nelson enjoyed what was probably his best game for the club on Thursday. He’s done well this season without pulling up trees. Expectations were high in pre-season but those are lowered and Bukayo Saka is ahead of him in the team. He’s been inconsistent as youth always is.
And the problems are magnified when they come with a £72m price tag. This week has seen the pundits launch into Nicolas Pepe.
Michael Owen’s desire to be football’s ‘Mr Nasty’ saw him criticise Pepe’s 24 minutes against Standard while Martin Keown observed Lille must be laughing all the way to the bank. Tyler on Monday night opined that people shouldn’t judge the young man on six appearances and then promptly did so.
Pepe himself admitted to struggling to adjust to England with his confidence taking a knock. He’s confident his confidence will return. But as we’ve seen before, Ligue Un to the Premier League is a big jump and he’s currently struggling.
Time Is A Great Healer
The problem at Arsenal is we are desperately searching for answers. This is a squad which is underperforming with a coach who is losing his audience. In those circumstances, everyone looks at the young players in the hope there are some gems to save us.
That’s a hefty burden to bear and arguably one players at a club such as Arsenal should be able to cope with. In fairness to them, they are.
We’re approaching the last international break of 2019 so not much change is expected to the team which will face Bournemouth. But at Sheffield United in a fortnight’s time? Expect wholesale changes in defence with Holding and Bellerin back.
Or maybe just the Spaniard. Maybe, like Xhaka, Emery trusts Luis and Sokratis despite evidence to the contrary. Rob Holding is likely to have to wait for his return to Premier League action. This despite his presence for most of our long unbeaten run last season.
The question of whether youth will get its chance rests with Unai Emery. Raul talked a good game about the Spaniard promoting young players and developing them. Unai does as well. This season is the time for him to deliver.
And there’s some surprise that we, the supporters, are placing all our hopes on another Project Youth. We got badly burned last time around. It strikes me our problem is necessarily that but the quality of the experienced players around them. That’s tougher to address and takes a lot more money.
Money we don’t have unless we return to the Champions League. Returning to which, it seems, is reliant upon youth…